One February night in 2009, Colette Carr heard that rapper The Game was playing a special student-only show at the University of California’s Los Angeles campus. Which was great news for rap fans who actually attended the University of California. Colette Carr, however, was not one of them. But being the kind of person who would never let a technicality like that stop her, she snuck in. While waiting for The Game to show up, the warm-up comic Stroy Moyd asked if anyone in the audience could rap. Next thing Moyd knew, Carr had jumped up onstage and asked for the mic. Amused, he handed it over. “This is my flow!” she announced before launching into a rapid-fire freestyle about getting chased by the cops. A clip of the performance is posted on YouTube with cheers and encouraging chants of “Go white girl!” audible in the background.
The experience, Carr says, ignited her passion for performing. “The second I got up there, it hit me that being onstage is where I’m supposed to be; that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” the 20-year-old California native says. “It was like an electric charge. I’ve never done drugs in my life, and I never will, but that was a high. I can assume it’s probably better than drugs because you don’t feel horrible the next day.”
Fortunately for Carr, several music industry bigwigs were in the audience, setting off a trajectory of events that has culminated in Carr’s releasing several buzzworthy viral videos (“Back It Up,” “Bitch Like Me,” “(We Do It) Primo”) and signing with Nick Cannon’s N’Credible Entertainment and Interscope Records’ imprint Cherrytree Records. The label released Carr’s first official single “No ID,” featuring Frankmusik, in September, and will also release her debut album, Skitso, early next year. Skitso, which features Carr both singing and rapping, is a wickedly inventive set of pop, hip-hop, and electro-pop gems (co-written with and produced by Frankmusik, Space Cowboy, The Cataracs, Cherry Cherry Boom Boom, and Toby Gad) that showcases Carr’s idiosyncratic delivery, sassy humor, and abundance of spitfire personality. It’s also impossible to pigeonhole stylistically, which she loves.
“I’m calling it Skitso because it’s musically schizophrenic,” she says. “it’s also a tribute to my uncle who suffered from schizophrenia before he passed away two years ago. He was very funny and outspoken and taught me what real creativity was.” Her uncle’s condition inspired Carr’s eye-catching video for “Back It Up,” which is set in a psychiatric ward and features Carr in a straight-jacket channeling her uncle’s spirit. Financed with her own savings, the clip racked up nearly half a million views on MTV.com and became one of mtvU’s most-viewed videos of all time.
That no-holds-barred imagination is rampant in everything Carr does, from her personal style (she headlining the second stage at Bamboozle last year wearing a pink tube top, blue tutu, yellow eye shadow, and mismatched Chuck Taylors) to her website blog — a riot of free-form multi-media that Carr describes as “like my brain on a page.” The site also hosts the Grease-inspired video for “No ID” (with Carr as a modern-day Olivia Newton-John), the playful clip for “(We Do It) Primo,” and video homages from her growing legion of fans, whom Carr refers to as “goers” because “they make it go,” she says. (Want proof? When Carr posted her debut mixtape, Sex Sells Stay Tooned, on her website last year, it was downloaded 100,000 times.)
A classic California girl, Carr was raised in the relaxed beach community of Malibu where her parents moved when Carr was six. “Between my parents and my school, I had a lot of creative freedom to just be myself,” she says. An avid tennis player, Carr began home-schooling at age 12 to focus on going pro. “Since I was seven I wanted to be number one in the world at tennis,” she says. However, her dream of an athletic career was dashed when her doctor told her she’d have to give up the game due to a lack of cartilage between her vertebrae. “It was the strangest feeling,” she says. “Everything I had worked for, everything I dreamt of every day of my life was just gone. But I had this creative side that I had never really explored because of my crazy workout schedule.”
Carr had always loved music and singing along to everyone from ’80s stalwarts The Cure, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode, to singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, to classic rockers Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. When she was 15, she got into hip-hop and began to come up with her own songs, naturally combining her love for pop melodies with hard-hitting rhymes inspired by her favorite emcees Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, and Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah.
“I think I just got lucky with rapping,” she says. “I’m the Chihuahua who thinks she’s a Pit bull. I’ll bark at any dog. But at the same time, freestyle battling is a lot of negative energy because it’s about tearing someone to shreds. I’m not interested in that anymore. I want to create music that makes people happy and inspires them to be the best version of themselves. That’s what my songs are about. ‘F16’ is about being in a destructive relationship where someone is trying to ruin everything you’ve built, but if you know who you are, you can get up, brush yourself off, and keep it moving. ‘Why Are You Leaving’ is about missing someone who’s constantly in and out of your life; it’s a very heartfelt song. Music can touch people in a way words can’t. That’s what’s so beautiful about it. You put a melody to something, and all of a sudden they hear you.”
Even Carr’s party-starting songs convey a meaningful message beneath the dancefloor beats. “’No ID’ is a song for the rebels — an anthem for those who will not conform,” Carr says. “It’s about having special people around you to keep the party popping. And ‘(We Do It) Primo’ is about living in the moment where the small things mean everything, like your favorite flavor of ice cream or your favorite childhood memory. It’s those moments when time stops and you’re finally just breathing and enjoying yourself.”
Enjoying herself is what Carr plans to do while gearing up to release Skitso: “I try and do it primo, capture the moments, and stop the time from flying,” she writes on her blog. “It’s a freaking rollercoaster, and if I’m not making an effort to throw my hands up and scream a little then what am I really doing?”